The Five Myths of Aging

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If you were
an alien visiting our planet, you might think Earthlings never age.
Even as awareness about aging rises, most major magazines and television
stations still fail to display vital, older people. Medical journals,
on the other hand, harp on the infirmities of old age. It’s no wonder
we fear and even deny our own inevitable aging.

Grower older
can’t be avoided, but it doesn’t have to mean the loss of health,
mind and independence. In fact, research seems to indicate the opposite.
By paying a little attention to lifestyle, most older individuals
can live active, healthy lives and we can all shatter those old
age myths.

Myth #1:
When I get old, I’ll become senile.

Many of us
view the elderly as doddering old creatures, unable to think for
themselves and constantly forgetting the most mundane things. In
reality, senility only strikes five percent of Americans. The other
piece of good news is that some age related declines in mental functioning
can be prevented or even reversed.

When scientists
from Tufts University reviewed a number of studies, they discovered
that vitamin deficiencies account for many of the symptoms of senility.
Just as vitamins are needed for normal nervous system development
in children, they are required for normal neurological functioning
in adults – young and old.

For example,
low folate levels in the elderly can cause forgetfulness, irritability
and possibly depression. Vitamin B6, a nutrient required to make
many neurotransmitters, may lead to peripheral neuropathy (a disorder
of the nervous system where the limbs feel numb or tingle) if deficient.
The nutrient that ensures nerves are protected with a myelin sheath,
vitamin B12, can be responsible for delusions and mood disturbances
when levels fall below normal.

Most of us
think that nutrition must be poor before these kind of deficiencies
show up. However, researchers have found that seemingly healthy,
elderly subjects can still exhibit low vitamin levels. In fact,
an older individual can be lacking in certain vitamins for years
without any hint of a deficiency. Symptoms, mental or otherwise,
may not show up immediately and even the usual blood tests employed
to detect lagging nutrients are not always reliable (1).

Myth #2:
Old age means losing all my teeth.

If you’re not
worried about losing your mind when you’re old, you might fret about
losing your teeth. Periodontitis, or late stage gum disease, is
the primary cause of tooth loss in adults. This condition commonly
begins as gingivitis where gums turn red and begin to swell and
bleed, a situation experienced by too many people. Fortunately healthy
gums and avoiding false teeth are both reasonable goals.

The elderly
of today are much more likely to keep their teeth than previous
generations. Even so, dental disease is prevalent. The New England
Elders Dental Study found the beginnings of periodontal disease
in over 3/4 of the 1150 persons examined. Part of the problem, said
these investigators, was that education and dental care for this
population are overlooked by both dentists and the patients themselves
(2).

The sad part
of this situation is that proper dental hygiene and regular cleanings
by the dentist are usually enough to stave off infection. Another
simple and inexpensive way of preventing or at least halting the
progression of periodontal disease is to store and replace your
toothbrush properly. Although most of us are in the habit of keeping
our toothbrush in the bathroom, this is not recommended. Bathrooms
are the most contaminated room in the house. Healthy people should
replace their toothbrushes every two weeks; those with a systemic
or oral illness more often. Everyone should use a new toothbrush
when they get sick, when they feel better and again when they completely
recover (3).

Finally, an
important aspect of both dental and general health is immunity.
It has been determined that a suppressed immune system is associated
with the rapid progression of periodontal disease. A Midwestern
research group found that cigarette smoking was one habit that dragged
down immunity and sabotaged periodontitis treatment (4). Other lifestyle
behaviors that theoretically could do the same include poor eating
habits, stress and other immune depressors.

Myth #3:
The older I get, the sicker I’ll get.

It’s true that
as we age, our physiology changes. These changes can lead to poor
health if not addressed. But old age doesn’t have to mean feeling
sick and tired. An important part of staying well into the older
years is keeping your immune system operating at its peak.

Aging is generally
associated with lagging immunity and consequently more infections
especially of the respiratory system. However John Hopkins’ Professor
Chandra discovered that when independent, apparently healthy, elderly
people were fed nutritional supplements for a year, their immunity
improved. Immunological responses were so marked that those who
were supplemented (versus the placebo group) were plagued with less
infections and took antibiotics for less days. It should be noted
that these effects were achieved with a moderate amount of nutrients
in a balanced formula; megadoses of some vitamins can actually impair
immunity (5).

Besides taking
care of your immunity with supplementation, diet, exercise and other
measures, you can prevent many age-related diseases with specific
health precautions. For example, there is evidence that smoking
and low plasma levels of vitamins C and E, and beta-carotene contribute
to cataracts (6). Dr. Dean Ornish showed that a one year program
of stress management, moderate exercise, no smoking and a low-fat
vegetarian diet may reverse the development of coronary atherosclerosis.
Left untreated, atherosclerotic plagues usually continue to grow
(7).

Many other
chronic diseases can also be prevented or treated with lifestyle
changes. Calcium and magnesium supplementation helps some individuals
with hypertension. Most are helped by high potassium foods (fruits
and vegetables), salt restriction and weight maintenance. Keeping
blood pressure under control can also decrease the risk of a stroke.

Adult-onset
diabetes is usually treated best with dietary measures such as reducing
simple sugars, consuming a lot of fiber and taking chromium supplements
(8). It’s estimated that half of all types of cancer are linked
to diet. This explains why less fat, lots of fruits, vegetables
and fiber, vitamins A, B6, C and E and zinc and selenium all appear
to play a role in cancer prevention (9).

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the rest of the article

December
25, 2010

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